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Bill to Improve Emergency Alert System Moves Forward

March 7, 2018, 1:57 PM HST (Updated March 7, 2018, 2:00 PM)
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Missile false alert message,on Jan. 13, 2018.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee voted on Wednesday, March 7, 2018, to approve the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act, legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i).

The bipartisan ALERT Act, which was included in the sweeping Department of Homeland Security Authorization Act, would improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat.

“The committee’s vote brings us one step closer to fixing our broken emergency alert system,” said Sen. Schatz. “The people who know first should be the people who tell the rest of us. Our legislation makes clear that the authority to send missile alerts rests with the federal government.”

State and local governments have been largely responsible for alerting the public of threats from natural disasters and severe weather. But the system they use rests upon a patchwork of technologies and procedures that does not follow consistently across the government agencies that issue these alerts.

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The false alarm in Hawai‘i highlighted some of the weaknesses in the state’s emergency alert system, which had a poorly designed user interface and did not have a sufficient verification system or computer redundancies to help prevent mistakes. The incident made clear that there is a need for federal standards in the system and called into question the state’s responsibility to issue a missile alert.

The Schatz legislation would strengthen the way states and local governments use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, the FEMA platform emergency management professionals across the country use to issue warnings.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote.

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